The popular Cameroonian-born saxophonist, Manu Dibango, has always been a personal favorite. Traveling as a young man from his home town of Douala, Cameroon, to Paris, he discovered American jazz and fell in love.
His 1972 hit song, “Soul Makossa,” was discovered by DJ David Mancuso as a French import at a West Indian record store in Brooklyn and became a favorite at his loft parties. Soon, the song received enough air play on powerhouse radio station WBLS, that Atlantic Records decided to license it from the original French label, Fiesta Records. Already, it was a big hit in France and Cameroon. “Soul Makossa” catapulted to the Hot 100 Billboard charts, a first for an African musician.
Manu’s song was originally the B-side for a song about the Cameroonian soccer team. Some say the song marked the beginning of disco, three years before Donna Summer hit the scene. Motifs from the song were later used by Michael Jackson in “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” (1982) on his mega-hit Thriller album, and also on Rihanna’s 2007 hit, “Don’t Stop the Music.”
Then in 1990, Dibango scored another first with his African hip hop album, Polysonik.
My story about him is personal. In 1995, I interviewed Manu for KCRW while he was in town for a show at the Santa Monica Pier. Afterwards, I invited him to attend a party that weekend at my new Venice home. Much to my delight, he showed up. Most of the assembled guest were up on the roof deck, where there were speakers and plenty of seating.
I made sure to have some good jazz playing up there, with a good mix of African music: Sam Fan Thomas, King Sunny Adé, Franco, together with Miles Davis, Lester Young and others. When I went over to speak to Manu, Dexter Gordon was playing. One of the best things about speaking passable French is not to impress someone at a French restaurant, It’s being able to converse with my favorite Francophone African musicians. When I approached Manu, he was digging Dexter. He looked up at me and said, “Ahhhhhh, Dex-stehrrrrr que j’aime!!!” I hit a home run that night that I will never forget.
DJs, if you play this song, people will dance!!!
A new version of Manu Dibango’s legendary smash hit, “Soul Makossa,” featuring Wayne Beckford.